Album review: Kierston White — Don't Write Love Songs

The Tequila Songbirds have become just as beloved as about any group around these parts.

And how could they not? Featuring a revolving cast of the Sooner State’s most badass female performers, it’s a power hour of some of the best songwriting coming out of central Oklahoma. Sure, they might not technically be family, but they are clearly a band of sisters all the same, bonded by the same brand of whiskey running through their veins.

It started as a song swap, and Samantha Crain, Ali Harter, Sherree Chamberlain, Camille Harp, Kaitlin Butts, Eliza Bee and plenty more have all made their appearances. But it’s Kierston White who has always acted as the glue that holds them together, despite the fact that the rest of the cast all had a record or more to their name pre-Songbirds — but not White.

That changes with Don’t Write Love Songs, the Norman singer’s debut LP. Recorded at Blackwatch Studios and produced by Crain, the eight-song effort goes a long way in showing that White is just as capable of soaring on her own as she is alongside her flock. It’s a quaint collection of songs that celebrate heartfelt sentiments and perceptive lyricism.

Opener “Alcohol” features the album’s most catchy and ambitious arrangement, and its more traditional follow-up, “Love Songs,” is just as infectious. “Big Star” flirts with the big, anthemic folk hooks so in vogue as of late, but most of the offerings are even-keeled and steady. “Warren” and “Soft Shoulders” are defined by their pretty, stripped-down simplicity, although “Happy Noon Beers” and “Ride On” might saunter a little too much for their own good.

Still, it’s refreshing to have the mix toned down in order to allow White and her voice to assume the forefront — enough to let those two important elements shine without the room feeling empty.

It’s hard to say if Don’t Write Love Songs is more of country or folk album; it has a definite twang, but it’s refined, and its open-diary frankness is pinned to some adept hook writing. It likely is something in between, recalling the most prairie- friendly work of Neko Case or, at her most restrained, Kerosene-era Miranda Lambert.

But the best things are never just one thing; they are a little bit of everything. And White’s songs are exercises in duality: tough but tender, stubborn but receptive, guarded but vulnerable. That dichotomy is very literally addressed in “Soft Shoulders,” and it’s a theme that runs through each of the rest, her lyrics saying one thing but the tone of her voice saying another.

It’s not so much confused as it is wholly aware of the fact that what you think and what you feel rarely ever live in accord. It’s also why an album called Don’t Write Love Songs has no shortage of them, because White knows a good song reconciles what you want with what you need.

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